Subversive Marketing Practices By: Lars Smith

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PHLster SEO Ad
Photo Credit: Bing Search Engine

Over the weekend, if you had typed “PHLster” into the Bing search engine, you would have seen what’s pictured in the photo above. The top result is, what appears to be PHLster’s landing page, with subheadings dedicated to the various products and information PHLster offers. However if you were to click, or simply look somewhat closer, you’d notice that this is not a link to PHLster’s site, but a slick, if subversive marketing ploy.

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The top result is in fact a link to WeThePeople Holsters; a popular, if lower tier, maker of decidedly okay holsters whose primary feature is that they come in nearly any make/model of handgun, and are comparatively affordable. Options abound, so long as you’re looking for patriotic prints, rather than quality steel belt clips, wings, wedges, or any physical upgrade to the typical mass-produced kydex offerings beyond cosmetics. For 3x the price of the base model, you can get an even bigger model that you can turn into a sidecar with an included mag carrier. The hardware is still kydex, though along with the notoriously terrible FOMI clips, you get a pair of tuckable kydex clips that will probably have the same problems with plasticity (bending without returning to their original shape) that the FOMI has.

I’m a warm-blooded creature, so I’m not a lawyer, and while this doesn’t seem to be illegal it’s certainly a significant step away from any marketing best-practices I’ve ever been made aware of. Using SEO to generate search engine hits with a competitor’s keywords isn’t really uncommon, let alone actionable, but using a competitor’s brand name to generate a misleading link that a reasonable person might believe is actually that competitor’s site is… well, I suppose we’ll find out what it is, but for now let’s go with “Misleading, possibly unethical, and definitely subversive marketing”.

I’ve never used a WeThePeople holster, mainly for the lack of ergonomics, comfort or concealment-focused shapes or structures, the fact that I’d have to buy DCC clips or something else to replace the godawful FOMI, and the general “Top of the line for 2010” vibe their products generate in me and those I train with. Their products never inspired me to want to save $20-40 over a much higher-end product from Dark Star, Henry Holsters, PHLster, or others who have led the field in the last several years, but I can 100% understand where the appeal lies for many. It’s cheap, it’s got prime shipping available, and there’s one that fits your gun no matter how oddball or derp it happens to be.

I can’t make a financial call like that for you, or anyone else, but I will point out misleading and borderline unethical marketing practices when they’re brought to my attention, and suggest you leaven your enthusiasm for the cheaper end of the scale when such things present themselves. Good people can certainly make bad decisions, and how they handle this situation if it truly rises to the level of public scrutiny, will inform a lot of how I and others will feel about the situation. Regardless of this particular instance, keep your eyes peeled and make sure you’re actually getting what you’re looking for, especially when it comes to equipment that you’re betting your life on, because subversive marketing practices are generally just the tip of the iceberg.